Tuesday, November 2, 2010

CSFF Blog Tour: The Skin Map Day Three

The Skin Map is speculative fiction. To paraphrase Orson Scott Card's broad definition, much of the story takes place in worlds that have never existed or are as yet unknown. I suspect few would argue with the speculative tag, but what kind of speculative fiction is this? Is it fantasy, science fiction, or some sort of alternate history? It combines a bit of each. The worlds to which the characters jump have much in common with our own, but their histories are slightly different. In the seventeenth-century England that Kit visits, the English Civil War has not taken place. Oliver Cromwell is an itinerant preacher. In another world, Howard Carter and the Earl of Carnarvon discover the untouched tomb of a high priest rather than King Tut. (Lawhead does marvelous work in that chapter building up our anticipation of the discovery we know is coming so that we can share in Carnarvon's disappointment. Rather than filling his tomb with gold, the priest has spent his money on art, covering the walls and ceilings with paintings.) While these historical differences are significant, Lawhead does not focus on them or spend much time speculating on their consequences for subsequent historical developments. As for fantasy, the cave lion and the chapters set in seventeenth-century Europe give the story a touch of fantasy, but the genre's touchstone, magic, is completely absent. Aren't those ley lines magical? No, Cosimo and Sir Henry argue a naturalistic explanation. The alternate worlds are simply part of the grand universe in which the characters reside, a characteristic as "magical" as gravity, light, or the moon. Time travel has been a staple of science fiction, and the alternate worlds follow the same rules as our world, except for the ley lines. All of which leads me to conclude that The Skin Map has more in common with science fiction than anything else.

Despite the various attempts by Cosimo and Sir Henry to explain how ley lines work, it is still not clear what is required to use them. Are only certain people with some sort of gift able to initiate a jump? Or, is ley jumping a skill that anyone can acquire with practice and knowhow? Some of Cosimo's comments suggest the former, but Wilhelmina is able to make jumps by herself at the novel's conclusion. Hopefully Lawhead will elucidate this mystery in subsequent volumes.

The Great Fire of London,
with Ludgate and Old St. Paul's,
ca. 1670, artist unknown.
As with most stories involving time travel, there are some moral questions. If you know that a great calamity is about to occur and you can stop it, what do you do? Let history play out or intervene? On their way to dinner in seventeenth-century London, Cosimo makes a late night stop at a particular baker to buy a stale loaf of bread. He pounds on the door to wake the baker who is most displeased with the interruption to his sleep. Cosimo tosses the loaf to some women on the street after leaving the bakery. Kit learns that Cosimo has woken the baker whose untended fire caused the great fire of London. Kit questions altering history since Cosimo had stated earlier that ley travelers should strive to impact alternate worlds as little as possible. Cosimo argues that preventing the great fire spared many poor people a great deal of suffering and that the building boom in the wake of the fire would occur with or without the mass destruction.

Wilhelmina alters history in a different way. Plunked in seventeenth-century Prague with no idea how to return to modern-day London, Wilhelmina makes the best of her situation and attempts to integrate with the local society. However, when the bakery she and her partner operate is faring poorly, she uses her knowledge of modern-day coffee houses to reshape history to her own commercial success. Rather than waiting for coffee houses to evolve in Prague as the taste for coffee slowly spreads across the continent, Wilhelmina determines to start a new type of business from scratch and sends her partner out to find coffee beans. Knowing what a success coffee will ultimately be, Wilhelmina is hardly taking a gamble. The only serious problem is finding enough coffee beans. Lawhead does not treat the morality of Wilhelmina's actions. Other than Burleigh, who appears to have no moral scruples, Wilhelmina has no one with whom to discuss the situation.

Considering how to sum up The Skin Map's philosophy, two quotes come to mind.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (Hamlet Act 1, scene 5)

And Cosimo's rebuttal to Kit:

Who's to say the reality in which we find ourselves is the best one possible? (p. 61)

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Skin Map from the publisher.

To learn more about the author, visit his website at

To learn what the other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below:

Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
George Duncan
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson

Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson

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